In India, tens of millions of workers on strike against the privatization of banks

Article translated from Spanish

Millions of Indian workers went on strike on Monday March 28, 2022 for at least two days. They are protesting against the Indian government’s economic policies and demanding essential guarantees for workers in industry, agriculture and the civil service.

A dozen unions called for this strike in order to collectively demand from the government of Narendra Modi (Indian Prime Minister) the establishment of universal social security coverage for undeclared and unorganized workers (who represent approximately 80% of India’s 470 million workers), as well as an increase in the minimum wage, the launch of a job guarantee program and the cancellation of plans to privatize public sector banks.

The strikers are also calling for the government’s plans to sell other public companies to be halted.

Strike notices have been issued by unions in various sectors such as coal, oil, telecommunications, postal services, copper, banking and insurance among others. Unions in the rail and energy sectors rallied en masse in support of the general strike at hundreds of different sites.

Although the first day of the strike had little impact in India’s capital New Delhi or the financial hub of Mumbai, it had a big impact in other areas. For example in southern Kerala, the opposition to the government in power in India, the Communist Party of India, supported the uprising of the population. In some states, protesters blocked roads and railroads, affecting public transportation.

In several Indian states, many essential sectors have been affected by the general strike, such as banks, transport, railways and electricity. Several public sector banks have said their services could be affected by the strike participation of many of their employees, including at State Bank of India, India’s largest bank lender.

The CITU (Indian Center of Trade Unions), one of the largest trade unions in the country, says the number of strikers nationwide is in the hundreds of millions for this second day of strike, with 3.5 million the number strikers in the road transport sector alone, or 8 million in the health and social sector.

A particularly high unemployment rate

Even after India’s economy rebounded after a massive social unrest that lasted for the first two years of the pandemic, many jobs disappeared and the unemployment rate hit 8% last December.

Modi’s current government has already faced significant protests last year. Indeed, farmers were demanding the repeal of new farm laws that allowed for the forced divestment of land, crops and business operations to large multinational agribusinesses.

After months of massive strikes and protests, farmers managed to bring Modi to heel and force him to back down ahead of crucial regional elections which he won despite everything. But the farmers’ protests have marked the spirits of Indian workers and the current general strike is the first major social movement to cross the country since the elections.

Today, the Modi government is again using the same excuse, but for banks and state-owned enterprises, claiming that privatizations will help reform the banking sector and that the sale of assets will recover funds to stimulate Economic Growth. However, as the strike that has just started and which could follow in the footsteps of the mobilization of farmers and peasants of last year shows, nobody believes that these neoliberal measures are beneficial for the workers and the Indian people.

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